8 Qualities That Set Great Photographers Apart

What is it that sets great photographers apart? Is it that they are naturally gifted? Or do they practice the art religiously? Actually, there are quite a few common qualities that among well-known photographers. Tony & Chelsea Northrup discuss some of those traits in this video:

1. Persistence

Persistence is key. Everyone comes across certain challenges on their photography journey; the key is not to give up. Photographer Gordon Parks, for instance, started out selling newspapers.

phographer Gordon Parks

Photographer Gordon Parks

And don’t expect to excel in photography immediately. When it comes to photography, it can take decades to get good at it.

2. Focus on the Final Image

The greatest photographers are focused on the final image. Great photographers will do almost anything to get the final image that they have in mind. Ansel Adams, for example, was a pioneer of heavy darkroom editing, and he was fine with that.

Always be clear about why you’re taking a photograph. People are often so caught up in taking photographs that they forget what they’re trying to get.

“Great photographers will start with a vision in their mind and think how they can accomplish that. And they make the arrangements to get to that final image that they always had in mind.”

3. Purpose

People nowadays can get sucked into the trap of taking a pretty picture just to make others happy instead of focusing on their own purpose. Great photographers have a purpose; their photos carry meaning.

image by Ansel Adams

Image by Ansel Adams shows the awful conditions of Asian-Americans in internment camps during World War II

Gordon Parks, for instance, shot images to show people what life was like for black Americans. He successfully shed light on their struggles. Ansel Adams wasn’t just a landscape photographer. He was a conservationist and worked with the government to inspire people to care about national parks.

“If you want to be a meaningful photographer, if you want your work to mean something and be more important, have purpose. Think about what’s important to you, shoot it, tell a story, expose people to something you think is important.”

4. Style

Great photographers have signature photography styles. They’re persistent at a certain field, and they master it. When you think of Ansel Adams, you think of amazing landscape photos. David LaChapelle reminds us of bright colors, celebrities, and pop culture. Both of them could be good at wildlife photography, but do we associate them with wildlife? No. They got popular with their own styles and niches.

Great photographers develop a style with the genre of photography they stuck with, the type of lighting they used, their choice of colors, and the way they composed their image. So if you want to develop yourself as a great photographer, be a specialist, not a generalist.

“Pick something and dig deep into that one thing. And not even as general as portraits or landscapes but something very specific and singular that you are passionate about and that you will pursue for 30–40 years.”

5. Curiosity

If you’re reading this article, then well done; you’re already on the right path. Great photographers are interested in how other artists work. They learn from the great work of others.

“Learn about other photographers, what influenced them, what inspired them, what made them great, even. Understand the artist to understand what makes them great, and then apply the core of that to your own photography.”

6. Originality

“The great photographers don’t simply follow in the footsteps of others but they all trail blaze in some ways.”

Going back to David LaChapelle, he had a style that was very new during his time. Use of bright colors and a kitschy poppy art feel made people flock to him.

image by David LaChapelle

Use of vibrant colors was a signature style of David LaChapelle.

If everybody’s photos looked the same, nobody would care about anybody. That is why being unique in your own way is important. Find a way to do something entirely new.

7. Open-Mindedness

All the great photographers were open to embracing change. Their styles continued to evolve while maintaining their signature core.

Keep yourself open to all the changes happening around you. Be ready to embrace new technology if you need to, learn about the new trends in social media, or learn something new.

8. Capacity for Monetization

Great photographers find ways to make a living from their work. Many might argue that photography is an art and a way of conveying a message, but we all know that the real world doesn’t work that way. If you don’t monetize your photography, you’ll be stuck with a nine to five job that will suck up your energy and time for photography.

“You have to find a way to make a living with your photography so that you can put yourself 100 percent into it. It means commercializing yourself a little bit and sometimes it means giving up a little bit of your ideals but it can be for the greater good of your mission.”

Do you think you have the right traits to be a great photographer?

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2 responses to “8 Qualities That Set Great Photographers Apart”

  1. R. G. MENON says:

    Interesting and informative.

  2. Chidanand says:

    This is a great article for those amateurs, who are just groping in the dark and simply wasting time, money and energy on snapshots, without going anywhere further.

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